Did You Forget to Salt the Oats?

You have probably heard it said, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

But as Gary Smalley says, you can if you put enough salt in the oats.

Jesus is the living water. Many of us lead people to Him and then throw up our hands in frustration when they refuse to drink. But did we ever salt the oats?

Each person has the responsibility to choose to drink of Jesus, the living water. But we as believers have the responsibility to do everything in our power to make them thirsty. So the question remains…did we salt the oats?

Jesus calls His disciples the salt of the earth. Our lives are supposed to be so inexplicable, so undeniably different from the world, that those around us long for what we have.

As Ian Thomas said, “The Christian life can be explained only in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you—your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice, or your anything—then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it.”

If we as believers are living the same kind of life as those around us, why would they want what we have? If our lives are no different from theirs, what do we have to offer them?

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (ESV)

If our lives as believers are not inexplicable to the world, if they don’t cause people to stop and wonder what we have, if they don’t make people long for the living water that is Jesus, what good are they? They are of no good.

Throughout the ages there have been men and women who have lived this kind of inexplicable life. Among them were the Ten Boom family, George and Mary Muller, Rachel Saint, Brother Andrew, and many more.

The lives of these men and women make people stop and wonder.

The Ten Boom family rescued Jews from the Nazis during World War II. They risked their lives to shelter men and women they did not know, and they forgave the Nazis who caused them great pain.

George and Mary Muller cared for 10,000 orphans throughout their lifetime without ever asking anyone for money. They trusted their needs to God and He supernaturally provided.

Rachel Saint went to live among the Auca Indians just two years after they violently killed her brother. She spent her life loving and serving and sharing Jesus with them.

Brother Andrew smuggled hundreds of Bibles into closed countries. He saw God work miracle after miracle as he went into dangerous places and met with persecuted believers.

The lives of these men and women can only be explained in terms of Jesus. What they did was impossible in human terms. Their lives force people to stop and ask, “what do they have?”

Is your life inexplicable to those around you? Maybe you aren’t smuggling Bibles or hiding Jews, but are you forgiving and loving those who hurt you? Do you rejoice in the midst of your suffering and praise God through your pain? Do you serve others at the expense of your own pleasure and desires? Does your life cause others to thirst for the living water—Jesus or have you forgotten to salt the oats?

Pursuing Christ in Spite of the Cost

Christianity is not an easy road. Jesus called it a narrow way. It is a difficult, unpopular and often dangerous path to walk.

When we choose this life we are choosing scorn, mockery, and difficulty. People will not understand us. The decisions we make in obedience to our precious, Lord Jesus will not make sense to this world.

As humans, this is hard for us. We naturally desire affirmation, acceptance, and approval.

When we become Christians, if we truly live in obedience to Christ, we will receive scorn and mockery.

This is a painful reality. It is hard to let the desire for the approval of others go. It is easy to grow discouraged when we are hated and persecuted for our faith.

In Hebrews 12 we are told to consider Jesus lest we grow weary and discouraged.

When we consider Him we discover that He dealt with everything we deal with. He was scorned. He was ridiculed. Even his own family did not understand the decisions that He made.

He gave up everything to come to this earth and die on humanity’s behalf. He was rejected by the very people He came to save. He gave up everything for us and we spit in His face.

Most of us recognize that He suffered excruciating physical pain. He was torn by thorns. He was flogged. He was crucified.

We often forget however, that He also experienced incredible emotional pain. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because they did not recognize or receive Him. He was misunderstood by most. His own family thought He was insane.

The very people who should have crowned Him as their rightful King spit upon Him instead.

Just before His death, Jesus warned His disciples that they would be persecuted and that the world would not receive them or their message.

John 15:18-20 says, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

Just as He promised them, Jesus’ disciples were persecuted. They were flogged and thrown into jail. They were hunted down and killed. How did they respond to this hardship?

Over and over again throughout the book of Acts, we see the disciples rejoicing in the midst of their pain because they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. They considered it an honor to experience persecution on behalf of their Savior.

Throughout Scripture, we are promised that if we serve Christ we too will suffer. We may not experience the physical pain that so many Christians throughout the ages have endured but we will most certainly experience the pain of being misunderstood. How will we respond when the promised suffering comes our way?

May we like the early disciples fix our eyes on Jesus. He experienced everything we experience. Our pain is but a taste of His. May we rejoice in the knowledge that we share His suffering. May we pursue Christ in spite of the cost.

Draw Near to God

Do not come any closer.

These were the words of God to Moses at the burning bush. Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly warned his people not to come close. He commanded Moses to put a barrier around the mountain of the Lord lest the people climb it and be destroyed by their holy God. The children of Israel were commanded to keep their distance from the Ark of the Covenant, which was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. Even the priests were not to enter the Most Holy place because the presence of the Lord was there. This distance between God and His people is dealt with all throughout the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, however, we see a startling contrast. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In the Greek, the word “come” has the idea of drawing near. This passage invites us to draw near the throne of grace. Unlike in the Old Testament where God’s people were told to keep their distance, now we are invited into the very near presence of God. Why? What has changed?

Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to keep their distance not because He did not love them but because He wanted to protect them. God is holy holy holy. We are unrighteous, completely defiled by sin. Unrighteousness cannot stand in the presence of the Holy God. He is a consuming fire. He commanded His people to keep their distance lest He consume them.

So what about now? Why can we draw near? Are we better than the people of the Old Testament? Has God changed?

We are as unrighteous as ever. God is unchanging. He is righteous and holy. In our unholy state, we have no access to God.

The invitation to come into the very near presence of God is not based upon our holiness. It is based upon the holiness of another. Because Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life, died and rose again, we can stand before God.

We can draw near not on our own merits but rather on the merit of Christ. As believers, we are clothed in His righteousness. It is only through the holiness and perfection of Christ that we can draw near.

What an incredible reality! No longer do we have to keep our distance from God. No longer is there a chasm between our Lord and us. Christ has bridged that chasm for us and we can draw near to God.

Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we can draw near with full assurance of faith. We do not have to fear being rejected by God. If we are in Christ, He invites us into His presence. He desires that we would draw near and discover the joy of intimacy and sweet fellowship with Him.

Becoming a Mature Believer

What does it look like to grow as a Christian?

Many young believers see their need for God so clearly. They realize that they have sinned and messed up their lives. They are desperate to live differently and know that apart from God it is impossible so they cling to Him. They are dependent upon Him. They seek His will in the smallest moments of everyday life.

As the years go by, often, these believers grow up and become more “mature” in their faith. They become accustomed to the Christian life. They lose their conscious need for God’s help. They stop depending on Him and seeking His help and guidance in every area of their lives.

This is normal but is it right? Should we grow up in our faith to be independent of God or should we grow more dependent every day?

John 15:4-8 says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

As believers, we should constantly be growing and becoming more fruitful for the kingdom. According to Jesus the only means by which a believer can bear fruit is by abiding in Him. If we abide in Jesus we will bear much fruit. Without Jesus, we can accomplish nothing.

A branch’s job is not to bear fruit. Instead, it is to abide in the vine. If it abides in the vine, it will produce fruit. In the same way, our job as believers is to abide in Jesus. If we do so our lives will overflow with fruit.

Although it is normal for us to grow in independence, we should instead grow in dependence. This is the key to maturity and fruitfulness. The Christian life can be summed up in one word—Jesus. He is our aim, our goal, our life.

A mature believer is one whose whole life is wrapped up in Jesus, one who has truly learned to abide in and depend upon Him.

Is that your reality as a believer? Is your life summed up in Jesus? Are you growing more dependent upon Him every day?

May we mature in our faith by growing in dependence.  May we cling ever tighter to Jesus.

Consistent Christianity

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The greatest argument against Christianity is not the problem of pain or the lack of miracles in our world but rather the inconsistency of Christians. Too often our actions contradict our message. We proclaim grand truth but live mediocre lives.

Although we as Christians often grow accustomed to this discrepancy, unbelievers do not. They recognize the inconsistency in our lives and often use it to discredit our God.

Two years ago I stumbled across a tract by an atheist that profoundly challenged me. Although he is an atheist, this man has a clearer understanding of what the consistent Christian life would look like than many Christians. The tract reads as follows:

“Did I firmly believe, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as follies, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought, and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labour in its cause alone. I would take thought for the morrow of Eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences should never stay my hand, nor seal my lips. Earth, its joys and its griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon Eternity alone, and on the Immortal Souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

This is the consistent Christian life. We claim to believe that earthly life holds little significance in view of eternity but do we truly live it? We claim to love those who don’t know Christ but how much can we really love them if we believe they are lost without Christ and yet are unwilling to preach the gospel to them?

As believers, we are called to give up everything for Jesus. We are called to be sold-out for Him. But are we? Our lack of evangelism condemns us. Our dusty Bibles condemn us. Our empty prayer meetings condemn us.

Where are the bold Christians who are willing to lose everything for Christ? Where are the Moseses of our day—the humble leaders? Where are the Esters of our day—the bold intercessors? Where are the Pauls of our day—the suffering servants?

Our world needs bold Christians who are willing to spend and be spent for Christ. May we become those Christians.

“Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things; Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings. Lift high the cross of Christ; Tread where His feet have trod; As brothers of the Son of Man, Rise up, O men of God!”
William Pierson Merrill “Rise up, O men of God.”

 

Willing to be Spent

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If God poured out the life of His Son why can He not pour out your life as well?

Many Christians believe that because God is good, their life should always be comfortable. A self-centered mindset permeates much of modern Christianity. Far too often we speak and act as if Christianity is all about us.

God’s greatest concern, however, is not our comfort and ease but rather the souls of men and women. Jesus suffered and died in order to bring people to Himself. His entire concern in coming to earth was the rescue of lost people.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.“

Jesus is the embodiment of this verse. He never sought his own well-being. He did not come to earth for Himself. He did not suffer and die for His pleasure. Jesus came seeking our well-being. He bled and died for us.

We are called to live as Jesus did, seeking the good of others. We are not to live self-protective lives. We are to give of ourselves.

When we come to Jesus we lay down our rights and relinquish control giving our lives to God to spend just as He spent the life of His Son.

On January 8, 1956, five young missionaries—Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian—were speared to death while trying to reach a violent tribe in the jungles of Ecuador with the gospel. Some years later one of the widows, Barbara Youderian, was asked the question, “when you found out that your husband had been speared to death and you asked God why, what did He say?” Barbara replied, “It never occurred to me to ask God why.”

If we have surrendered our lives to Jesus we have given them to Him to spend in any way He might choose. Barbara understood this. She and her husband had surrendered their lives fully to Jesus. They were sure that he was leading them to reach out to the Waodani. They knew the danger but they trusted Him with their lives.

When her husband was speared, Barbara did not have to ask why. She had surrendered her own life as well as that of her husband to be spent by God. If God spent the life of His son why would he not spend Roger and Barbara’s lives and ours as well?

Are you willing for your life to be spent by God?

 

Too Busy to Pray?

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We live in a fast-paced, noisy culture. We are always going someplace or doing something. We are constantly being bombarded with noise, the radio, the television, text messages, phone calls.

In the midst of all of our busyness, it can be difficult to find time to pray and study the Word of God.

As Christian’s, it is easy to spiritualize our busyness. We can become so busy with church and church activities, so busy serving God that we never spend time with Him.

This spiritualized busyness shows that deep down in our hearts we believe a lie. We believe that we, in and of ourselves, are capable of serving God.

In truth, we are not.

All effective work for the Kingdom of God is born out of absolute dependence upon Him. If we are not spending time in the Word of God and in prayer, if we are not abiding in Him and depending on Him, then although we may be busy serving Him we are not being effective in our service.

If we only knew how desperately helpless we truly are we would never let a day go by without spending time on our knees.

Jesus said in John 15:4-5, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Apart from Christ, we cannot do anything. In Jesus, we must live and move and have our being.

Recently I was convicted of the fact that I had slipped away from spending time in prayer and in the Word of God. I was so busy serving God and doing good things for God that I did not have time to spend with Him. The Holy Spirit showed me that I can only serve Him well if I am spending time in His presence. I can only love others well if I am first loving Him well.

I know the power of prayer. I have seen God intervene in my life in glorious ways and yet there is such a temptation to neglect prayer.

I know that I cannot accomplish anything of value without the grace of God and yet there is such a temptation to do things on my own.

If we truly understood the spiritual realm we would realize that it is impossible to be too busy to pray. In fact, every single one of us is too busy not to pray.

We are helpless. We are insufficient. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. He is our sufficiency.

Living as a Spiritual Athlete

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During the 2016 Olympics, there was a commercial featuring a US gymnast—Simone Biles. In this commercial, Simone says that she could choose to hit snooze but she doesn’t. She could choose to take a day off but she doesn’t. She chooses instead to rise to the challenge. Simone is talking about the reality that if she is going to be the best gymnast that she can possibly be she must make sacrifices. Excellence is a choice.

This commercial caused me to think about my Christian walk. If Simone Biles takes gymnastics that seriously if she works that hard for medals that fade away, how hard should we as Christians be working for our imperishable reward, how seriously should we be taking our Christian lives?

It isn’t that there is anything wrong with hitting snooze or taking a day off. Simone merely understands that if she does those things she is saying no to time spent practicing and refining her skills as a gymnast. She has given herself to gymnastics and she is arguably the best gymnast in the world.

There is nothing wrong with hitting snooze but often that snooze button robs us of time spent with our God. As Christians, we should be fully given to God. Are we as committed to our Lord as Olympic athletes are to their sports?

We are called to live as spiritual athletes.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Are we living this way?

When it comes to our Christian walk it is far too easy to be passive. We do not see the urgency. The physical realm is so real that it is easy to get caught up in it and forget about the spiritual realm. In reality, the physical realm is merely a shadow of the much more real and important spiritual realm.

One day when we die we will see that this is true but it is my desire to see it now so that I can live for what matters. I do not want to get caught up in the fleeting foolish fancies of a fading world. I want to live to glorify and honor my King. I want to be a spiritual athlete, running hard for what truly matters, spending every breath for the glory of my King.

 

 

The Courage of Surrender

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Come and die.

This is the call of the Christian life. Jesus gave everything for us. He purchased our very lives on the cross. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Jesus has purchased us. We are His possession. We must, therefore lay aside our own dreams and desires and live for His dreams and desires. Surrender. Pour your life completely out at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to use it in any way that He sees fit.

God does not ask that we would surrender. He demands it. All throughout Scripture we are commanded to lay aside our own desires, plans, and ambitions and live fully for our God.

Luke 9:23 says, “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

To deny in this passage literally means to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interests. A cross is an instrument of death. Jesus is calling us to die to our wants, our dreams, our desires. He is calling us to die to ourselves.

As Christians, we understand this and yet something often holds us back from full surrender. Fear. We are afraid to surrender.

It takes courage to completely surrender. It is not easy.  As Elizabeth Elliot said, “One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

We can gain the courage needed to surrender today yet lack the courage to surrender tomorrow. We are called however to live surrendered lives—every day, every moment, every second fully at the disposal of Jesus Christ to use as He sees fit.

How do we gain the courage to live this way, the courage to surrender?

We must get to know our God. Surrender is only terrifying when we forget to whom we are surrendering. When we remember that we are giving our lives to a perfectly loving, always forgiving and completely unchanging God surrender is no longer frightening. Suddenly it becomes the safest and most reasonable thing to do.

As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

The Fifth Sparrow

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God cares about the little seemingly unimportant things. He cares about the forgotten things, the unnoticed things.

God numbers the hairs on your head, He knows each star by name and He sees every sparrow that falls to the ground.

Matthew 10:29 tells us that two sparrows were sold for a copper coin while Luke 12:6 says that five sparrows were sold for two copper coins. It seems that when four sparrows were sold a fifth was thrown in. Worth so little, this fifth sparrow was merely given away with the four. Though it was of so little value that it was not worth taking into account in the sale, this fifth sparrow is seen, noticed and loved by God. God does not forget the fifth sparrow. Even for this little bird, He cares.

Do you have God’s heart for the little things, the forgotten things, the unnoticed things?

Do you care about the five-year-old girl in India who is being sold for a dollar? Do you care about the Down-Syndrom baby that is dying in an alley in North Korea, abandoned and forgotten? Do you care about the single mom in Haiti whose only means to support her family is prostitution?

In Matthew 10 and in Luke 12 Jesus tells us of God’s concern for the sparrow but then He goes on to tell us that we are worth much more than sparrows. We serve a big God who cares about the minutest detail of His creation yet first and foremost His concern is not for sparrows but for us, for people.

God is broken-hearted over the pain in this world. He is broken-hearted over all of the people that do not know Him. But God is also broken-hearted by the fact that we, His people, often do not share His burden.

We are too busy, too lazy and too comfortable. God is calling us, as His people, out of our ease and into the messiness of a lost world. He wants to share His heart with us. He wants to give us a burden for the forgotten places and the overlooked people.

This is not an option. We are Christians. This is who we are.

In Matthew 16:24 we are told that if we desire to come after Jesus we must deny ourselves which literally means to lose sight of ourselves and our own interests and take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

In our pampered American Christian culture we are used to having Jesus while still pursuing our own desires. Jesus calls us to give up our desires for His desires and our pursuits for His.

Jesus’ great concern is not for our comfort but rather for the lost souls around us. We must abandon our selfish pursuits to serve our God. He is looking for Christians who will share His burden and His heart for the lost and dying.

Will you open up your eyes and allow your heart to be broken by Him? God cares about the fifth sparrow. Do you?